Friday, January 27, 2012

Rent, charity, First Nations, Canada

My colleague at Nipissing University, Catherine Murton Stoehr, wrote this fine piece for the Toronto Star:

Strengthening the chain between First Nations and non-aboriginal Canadians
On Tuesday, Assembly of First Nations national chief Shawn Atleo presented Governor General David Johnston a silver wampum belt symbolizing the relationship between the British people and the First Nations. He stopped short of saying what we all know to be true, that the chain is almost rusted out. One of the central reasons for this breakdown is that non-aboriginal Canadians see all money and resources given to First Nations people as charity, while people in Atleo’s world see it as rent. If you’re handing out charity, you get to set conditions like submission to unelected managers. But people paying rent don’t get to interfere in their landlords’ business.
When British officials took over the land and destroyed the hunt in northern Ontario, they promised to immediately rebuild aboriginal communities’ infrastructure and then to support that infrastructure forever. In the same way that a lease remains in effect as long as a person rents a house, the treaties remain in effect as long as non-First Nations people live in Canada. Consistently fulfilling the terms of the treaties is the minimum ethical requirement of living on the land of Canada.
Attawapiskat is covered by Treaty 9. Like all the treaties, the written promises that colonial officials made in exchange for the land were very small. Historians correctly point out that the real treaties were the agreements that colonial representatives and First Nations leaders made orally. Indeed, the written documents cut out many of the oral promises and all of the shared “spirit and intent” of the oral agreements. So when we in 2012 talk about fulfilling the written treaty documents, we are talking about a limited, achievable goal. The more difficult part will be recovering and living up to the spirit and intent of the treaties.
So what did Canadians offer in return for the right to live on First Nations land and to sell the trees, minerals, fish and furs they found there? In Treaty 9, we promised to provide teacher salaries, school buildings and educational equipment. The children of Attawapiskat have been without a safe school building since 1979 when their school was contaminated by a diesel spill that made them ill. In 2000 the community moved the children into temporary buildings. In 2008 the Canadian government refused the request of a delegation of children from Attawapiskat asking for a new school.
The worst effect of that decision was to deprive 400 children of a proper school and to lay on them all the social and economic exclusions that arise from not having education. Another more insidious effect was to poison the relationship between the ancestors of the treaty signatories. By failing to provide the promised school, our government made it impossible for Canadians in the Treaty 9 area to live up to their moral obligations.
It may be that Stephen Harper wishes to begin a radical new era of just relations with First Nations people, but when he stands up in Parliament and expresses frustration at Attawapiskat’s finances, he hurts his cause by engaging in an old tradition of political theatre. He is encouraging Canadians to continue believing that we are the generous benefactors of the First Nations people, but that is not true. They have been our benefactors since the days of the fur trade and we have become one of the wealthiest societies in human history.
The bad news is that we have been left holding the bag and the profits from a 200-year-old land heist. The good news is that there is a clear path forward. To strengthen the chain between the First Nations and non-aboriginal Canadians, we must turn our gaze from the shortcomings of First Nations people onto our own. We must restore our side of the treaty relationship, which means learning the written and oral promises made over our bit of Canada and requiring our representatives to put fulfilling them at the top of their priority list.
We must do this because we said we would and we are honest. The Canadian people are not thieves and profiteers and we will make good on the deals from which we have received one blessing after another. My generation will pay the rent in Attawapiskat.
Catherine Murton Stoehr is an instructor in the department of history at Nipissing University.



    Education? It says anything about education?

    Treaty nine is a joke. It is time to revisit it, chuck out the apartheid Indian Act, and yes, pay the rent owed! And treat people like people.
    Not like children. Or wards of the state.

    I agree with everything Catherine says. However, there is really nothing in Treaty nine which will support her position. By itself that is. It is a one sided disgusting document which should be trashed sooner rather than later. Don't believe it..I gave you the link above. What should replace it? Well, another treaty might be good...this one spelling out exactly what is meant instead of having to rely on diaries of persons who were at the event.
    But even with the most perfect treaty document built to replace this treaty document, perhaps we need to revisit the concept of treaties at all. They don't seem to be worth the paper they are written on, after all!
    There are plenty of examples of sovereign territories that exist around the world. Some the British Sovereign Territories in Cyprus. Others not so good, like the Zulu homelands. However, sovereign territory is a tricky concept, and it is high time the issue was re-visited.
    Daniel Veniez wrote an excellent article on this subject. A slightly different take on it.... but still, VERY worth reading.

  2. Further, His Majesty agrees to pay such salaries of teachers to instruct the children of said Indians, and also to provide such school buildings and educational equipment as may seem advisable to His Majesty's government of Canada.

  3. I stand corrected. There was a page two.

    the scrawled word at the bottom was "and", not "end".

    Clearly a rent is to be paid of four dollars per head per year.

    Presumably indexed iacw inflation.

    Still....I stand by my statement that it is a one sided disgusting document.
    It "might" make a little more sense if one looks at it as a rental agreement. (which is the way I always read those documents) In which case, the government has done exactly what it was supposed to do. It was, and is what governments usually do, which is throw money at it.

    They are of course, damned if they do and damned if they don't. Self sufficiency had a different meaning back then, and even in the day, they realized that times were a-changing. That formal education was needed to get natives to be able to tear down steam engines, and later, to fix aeroplanes, and run universities. Book learning was required to create the new "self suffiency", the book learning led to residential schools, and the loss of the old style of self suffiency.
    So they are damned if they provide education. They are damned if they provide money for modern "things". They are really damned as treaty breakers if they don't.
    What is the way forward?

    Simple. Provide the education contracted for, "have the band councils decide the curriculum", and pay the rent.

    What is so hard about that?